The consequences of exposure to asbestos frequently take decades to emerge and, in seeking recompense for victims, specialist solicitors often have to act as detectives, delving deep into the industrial past. One case, in which the family of a bricklayer won £135,000 in damages following his death from asbestos-related cancer, shows that a determined approach by experienced practitioners can result in a successful claim.
During the 1970s, the man carried out skilled work maintaining and refurbishing brickwork inside industrial furnaces. Prior to his death, aged 63, from mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs almost invariably associated with asbestos exposure – he said that he remembered working in extremely cramped and hot conditions, amidst clouds of dust that were sometimes as thick as fog.
His family launched proceedings on behalf of his estate against two companies and a government department for which he had carried out work on various sites during the relevant period. There was no dispute that he had been exposed to asbestos, nor that that exposure had caused his fatal cancer, but liability was nevertheless disputed on a number of grounds.
In upholding the claim against all three defendants, however, the High Court found that it did not matter that none of them had directly employed the man. Each of them was actually aware that his work involved materials containing asbestos and generated significant quantities of dust. The hazard to his health and that of other workers was eminently foreseeable. The amount of damages was agreed.